It’s 2015, and the cloud does everything — or almost everything. It stores your files. It serves your apps. It syncs your emails, contacts, and appointments.
But one thing the cloud still isn’t doing in many companies is managing the network. Even though we’re now years into the cloud age, and have migrated so many other services to the cloud, plenty of companies still rely on on-premises network management solutions.
That’s not because excellent cloud-based network management and monitoring platforms don’t exist. Those have been around since even before “cloud” went down in IT history as one of the most popular buzzwords of all time.
On the contrary: Secure, user-friendly, feature-rich network management solutions that run in the cloud are readily — and affordably — available. If your organization has yet to adopt one of them, you’re likely missing out on some killer functionality that on-premises management just can’t provide.
Here’s a look at what makes cloud-based network management different from — and, in most cases, better than — on-premises platforms, and why it beats legacy solutions hands-down.
- Better and easier patching routines
- Anywhere access
- Easier to use
- Your network is a cloud
The cloud’s ability to simplify patching and software updates is a major way it makes network management better.
If your management solution exists on-premises, it’s up to you to make sure crucial patches are applied regularly and on time. If you miss one, that could leave your network vulnerable. With the cloud, however, updates arrive automatically.
And receiving automated releases for cloud-based platforms just makes your life easier. You’re on the latest code all the time, and get new features faster without having to lift a finger. Keeping your management software up to date becomes one less thing on your to-do list.
Another reason to love the cloud is the way it makes data, apps, and services available from anywhere with an Internet connection. That’s why we now take it as a given that we can open files, read email, or even configure home thermostats from wherever we like.
If you’re not accessing your network management console with the same ease, you’re missing out. Cloud-based management means you can watch and configure devices anywhere on your network, no matter where you happen to be physically.
Of course, you might be able to cobble together the same sort of functionality using an on-premises monitoring solution by, for example, setting up a VPN and a remote desktop app to reach your management console from off-site. But that’s complicated and unreliable.
In contrast, management tools that are native to the cloud are seamlessly and securely accessible through a simple Web browser, from your laptop, phone, or tablet, making you more mobile than ever.
Web-based management consoles sharply reduce the learning curve for managing your network.
Many on-premises solutions — à la Cisco ASA-series firewalls, to cite one major example — require you to master tedious CLI commands in order to configure and manage devices. Others requires a software download and programming skills. With cloud-based software, management tasks become mere points and clicks.
As a bonus, Web-based interfaces provide rich visuals to represent things like network topology, making it simple for you to interpret network data, rather than tediously poring over tables of devices and IP numbers.
At first blush, security might seem like the last reason to adopt cloud-based network management. After all, moving your management tools to the cloud means giving up physical control over the hardware that hosts them, and relying on a third party to keep the console secure. Those aren’t negligible concerns.
But consider that the big cloud players are able to invest millions in security measures, including everything from keeping their physical servers on 24-7 armed guard lockdown to sophisticated protection methods from some of the best security minds in the business. Can you say the same for your own on-premises network?
The reality is that most small and mid-sized businesses just don’t have the budget or staff to implement the level of security that’s needed to protect a business in the 21st century.
“There’s no doubt that the weakest link in the security chain will prove to be the on-premise environment,” Philip Turner, VP EMEA said in Information Age. “You only have to look at the number of penetration attacks that there have been on on-premise environments to see that statistically it has now been proven that people cannot manage security as well in their own on-premise environment.”
Another factor to consider is that a multi-tenant cloud environment can make your particular company data harder for hackers to target. “They are physically removed from where the data is stored and don’t have the personal relationships with the person who does have access to the data,” points out Matt Davies, senior director of EMEA marketing at Splunk.
What’s more, good cloud-based management software will store your network configuration data off-site and use it to roll back device configurations seamlessly. That assures a secure, quick process for putting a compromised network back into commission.
Perhaps the biggest impetus for cloud-based network management is the fact that most networks are, at least in part, clouds themselves.
Your on-premises servers may be hosting private clouds that serve apps and data to users off-site. Similarly, public cloud platforms may be a key part of your company’s workflow and network infrastructure. Even if they aren’t, there’s a good chance your users are taking advantage of public cloud services, like Dropbox or Google Docs, on the personal devices they bring to work, whether or not they’re officially authorized to do so.
All of this means the cloud is already bricked into your infrastructure. It only makes sense for your management software to live in the cloud, too.
That’s not merely for the sake of keeping things consistent, by the way. Cloud-based network management is generally better than on-premises alternatives because the latter often can’t handle a network that integrates both on-site and remote devices, or public and private clouds, with the same effectiveness as a solution that itself lives in the cloud.
Is cloud-based network management right for all networks in all places all the time? No. But it delivers distinct advantages over legacy, on-premises solutions that are important to keep in mind when evaluating your management and monitoring strategies.